Blackhawks could turn to hot Lehner against Canucks
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The Chicago Blackhawks haven't had the kind of season they had hoped for so far, but the blame doesn't lie with new goaltender Robin Lehner.
Lehner, 28, was acquired by Chicago in July as free agency opened and signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Blackhawks. The Gothenburg, Sweden, native notched his 100th career win on Sunday night, reaching the milestone by making 36 saves in a 3-2 overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks.
Now, the goalie and his teammates are back home after a four-game road trip to host the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night with hopes for a change of fortune.
Lehner has been in goal during three of Chicago's four wins on the season, helping him add to his career milestones. He became the fourth Swedish goalie in NHL history to record 100 wins, joining all-time leader Henrik Lundqvist (451 wins), Tommy Salo (210) and Johan Hedberg (161).
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound backstop has been worth the commitment so far for Chicago, and his role may be changing if his recent usage is any indication.
Despite losing to the Sharks 4-2 on Tuesday night in San Jose, Lehner has started six of the past eight games -- perhaps a sign that coach Jeremy Colliton will lean on him more than No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford.
His numbers are sharp for the 4-7-3 Blackhawks, who sit near the basement of the Western Conference's Central Division, tied with the Minnesota Wild with 11 points.
That is due to little fault of Lehner, who holds a pedestrian 3-3-2 mark but has been stout between the pipes.
His goals-against average (2.33) and save percentage (.935) match up well with Semyon Varlamov (2.14, .929), his replacement with the New York Islanders, and prized offseason free agent Sergei Bobrovsky (3.36, .882), who signed with the Florida Panthers.
"People talk a lot about last year, but I played for arguably the worst defensive team in the league for three years in Buffalo. So it's nothing new. And I put up good numbers there, no matter what anyone said," Lehner said Sunday.
"I'm four years older. My game is better."
For its part, Vancouver lost in a most unusual fashion on Tuesday night to St. Louis after Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes tied the game 1-1 late with a blast from the blue line to force overtime.
In the three-on-three extra session, Vancouver's J.T. Miller and Tyler Myers collided and fell to the ice behind the Blues' goal. Bo Horvat, the third Vancouver skater on the ice, had to go around his fallen teammates, leading to an almost unheard of three-on-zero rush going the other way.
After a pair of passes, Jaden Schwartz finished off the three-man advantage by beating goalie Jacob Markstrom for his fifth career overtime goal with under 90 seconds left in overtime for a 2-1 win.
Frustrated at losing after being the lone Canuck to defend the club's goal, Markstrom smashed his goalie stick into the post, sending the blade flying in anger.
Markstrom, owner of the fifth-most wins (92) by a Swedish goalie, said the outcome shouldn't overshadow a well-played game by his team, which outshot the reigning Stanley Cup champs 34-27.
"We just kept playing the way we started the game," said Markstrom, who is 5-2-3 on the season. "Sometimes, it can be frustrating when you're playing well and doing the right things and you don't get rewarded."